Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood said Monday he will not recuse himself from the retrials of several people convicted in the carjacking, rapes, and murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
"I cannot, I will not let that man sit on my daughter's trials without a war," said Gary Christian, Channon Christian's father.
The Knoxville couple was carjacked, raped, tortured and murdered back in January 2007. Since then, the four people convicted in their deaths have been granted new trials. That came in the wake of the TBI investigation into the drug abuse of Richard Baumgartner, the disgraced judge who presided over the original trials.
Prosecutors previously asked Judge Blackwood to recuse himself from the cases, arguing the had become too emotionally involved in the cases and could no longer fairly preside over the trials.
The judge refused, and the issue eventually made it to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which overturned the Blackwood's decision to grant new trials and sent the case back to the judge for a new decision.
Then, last month, the state filed a new motion
seeking the judge's recusal, citing a new law that went into effect
July 1. That law requires a judge to first decide on any recusal before
ruling on other issues in a case.
In light of that motion, Judge Blackwood put off a planned Friday hearing to decide on those new trials.
Instead, he took up the recusal issue in court Monday afternoon.
"I fail to see how any person can not have any doubt about Your Honor's ability to preside fairly over this case," Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price said.
Price argued that Blackwood's own comments about Baumgartner's actions proved he was too invested in the case. He also said that, because of all of the legal back-and-forth, any decision would be ripe for legal challenges.
"At this point, Your Honor, it doesn't matter what your ruling is, it can't stand, it won't stand. If you rule for us, we can't win. Later on, it's going to be overturned because of Your Honor's actions and our repeated filing motions to recuse and your track record of giving in to public furor about this case," Price said. "There's no way we can win in this situation. Your Honor's rulings, at this point, can't be trusted."
Defendants Lemaricus Davidson and Letalvis Cobbins were in court for Monday's hearing, as were attorneys for all four defendants. Several spoke out in court, taking issue with the prosecution's argument.
"We're certainly satisfied," said Tom Dillard, attorney for George Thomas. "I have never witnessed a judge under such unrelenting attack, and I don't, I would not blame the court whatsoever if the court said, that's it, I'm recusing myself, for whatever reason. Life's too short would be one, to put up with that."
In the end, Judge Blackwood's decision was swift and without explanation.
He simply said he was denying the motion to recuse, then announced the court was in recess and left the bench.
"This is 283 times we've been here, standing right here," said Hugh Newsom, father of Chris Newsom. "It'll be six years in January of next year. Right now, what do we have?"
The anger, frustration and exhaustion was clear on the faces of both the Newsom and Christian families, along with their supporters.
"Our kids need the justice, that's what we promised them we would do for them, and it's just been a rough road, and it seems like it's getting rougher, taking a toll on these families. Every single day we think of our kids and hope that they will get the justice that they deserve," Mary Newsom said. "It's just hard to keep coming here over and over again and not accomplishing anything, not getting done what we want to happen. It's depressing, it makes you feel bad when you leave, nothing seems to go your way."
Prosecutors say they'll now discuss the issue with the state attorney general to decide whether to appeal. That appeal would go directly to the appellate court.
Also at the hearing, Cobbins asked the judge to remove his attorney, Kim Parton, from his case. It appears that will happen -- Parton was all smiles leaving the courtroom -- but nothing official has yet been filed.
There's no word on when Judge Blackwood plans to take up the issue of the retrials again. He has previously said he will reconsider his decision to grant new trials to Cobbins and Davidson. He has said his decision on Thomas will stand.
Meanwhile, Vanessa Coleman's case has never been a part of the legal battle. She is set to get a new trial this fall.